Meet Todd and Rebecca from the Two Bear Farm in Whitefish, Montana.
These are some of the coolest people you'll meet, and it was an absolute pleasure talking to them about what it means to be an organic farmer in America today. If you haven't tried their spectacular fresh produce yet- make sure to go find them at your local Farmer's Markets!
For this "Featured Artisan" profile, I asked them questions- and they provided fantastic answers.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO FARMING?
Todd grew up on a small farm, but never thought he would be a farmer. He had a few other careers before realizing that farming managed to address all the issues that were important to him (wildlife and land conservation, health, and strong local communities). I did not grow up on a farm, but always knew I wanted to be a farmer. I studied agro-ecology in college, but didn’t really have a viable entry point into farming. Todd and I just happened to meet in the same year we both decided to focus on farming, and things progressed fast. We had started our first farm (Ten Lakes Farm) in Eureka within 9 months of meeting. We’re now on our second farm, Two Bear Farm, and going into our 9th year of farming
HOW DID YOU LEARN THE ART OF FARMING?
The only way to learn…lots of practice! Todd had tractor skills from his childhood, and we both had done some greenhouse work, but the reality was we learned as we went. Lots of reading and online research in the winters, and a general thirst for learning how to do things better each year. Farming is not a very forgiving environment to learn in (i.e. whoops, I forgot to flame weed the carrots, so now I have to hand weed them for 3 weeks straight), so the lessons tend to stick pretty well.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A SUCCESSFUL FARMER?
For starters, you need a strong work ethic and a passion for what you are doing. It’s a hard way to make a livable wage, and is a lifestyle that is a bit foreign in America today. The quality of life is amazing, but it requires total dedication to the cause, and without the passion, it’s too easy to start looking at how others live and earn money and feel a bit jaded. To earn a living as a farmer, you have to treat it like any small business, which changes the equation a bit. You’re not just outside frolicking in the tulips, you are trying to be hyper-productive and understand your production and margins for each crop. On top of that it helps to be a mechanic, an accountant, a salesperson, a web designer, a heavy equipment operator, a mechanical engineer, a business consultant, a carpenter, a plumber, and an electrician.
WHAT'S THE MOST CHALLENGING PART ABOUT ORGANIC FARMING OR FARMING IN GENERAL?
Farming for us is a way for us to live the principles that we believe in, which means inherent in that is trying to make people aware of the issues within our culture regarding food and the industrialized food system we currently have. And this can be a frustrating process, because awareness about this issue is not a real priority in our society. Farming is not simply a job, it’s a lifestyle in which you are fully immersed, and so some times we probably take it a little to seriously. Farming is also production work…a paycheck doesn’t just show up at the end of the week. We operate this entire 16 acre farm with just 6 people, so we need to be hyper productive. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for chatting with neighbors and visitors, and so trying to remain accessible to the community while avoiding interruptions and inefficiency is a constant struggle. Learning to draw boundaries, and to stay focused on our vision is always a challenge. Finding good help with strong work ethic is another challenge. You probably expected me to say the lack of control over weather or the back-breaking labor, but those really don’t stand out to us as big issues at this point...
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM BEING A FARMER? WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST TAKEAWAY?
Big question. We’ve learned what we’re capable of, and where we need to seek balance or draw lines. We learned what we’re good at and what we’re not good at, because it all gets laid open each year. The buck stops with us. We’ve learned this is a lifestyle that many people idealize, but few are willing to live. You also learn to deal with stress (hopefully), because we’re working in a natural system, and so much of it is outside of our control. The biggest takeaway? I guess it’s that we only have one go around at life, and despite the sacrifices, we want to spend that time trying to affect positive change. Although there are certainly days I consider being a surf bum.
IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU DISTRIBUTE YOUR HARVESTED PRODUCE? WHERE DOES THIS LOVELY ORGANIC FOOD GO AND HOW WOULD ONE FIND IT LOCALLY?
We offer a 200 member CSA share which gets distributed for 20 weeks during the spring/summer/fall. We also sell at three farmers markets during the season…Whitefish, Kalispell and Columbia Falls. We have an exciting new project where we have started a food truck named Farmer and Chef, which serves up organic meals sourced from sustainable Montana producers (no GMO’s), which will be at the Whitefish and Columbia Falls markets each week as well as available for catering weddings and special events. The Belton Chalet in West Glacier serves up a lot of our produce in their delicious offerings, and Third Street Market carries some of our produce for retail sale as well.
Follow Two Bear Farm on social media to get updates about their happenings!
Facebook (there's an easy link for signing up for their CSA)
Kalispell Farmer's Market : Saturday 9am - 12:30 FVCC
Whitefish Farmer's Market : Tuesday 5pm - 7:30pm North end Central Ave
Columbia Falls Community Market : Thursday 5pm - 7:30pm O'Brien's Liquor
DID YOU ENJOY THIS STORY? ARE YOU A TWO BEAR CSA MEMBER? DO YOU SEEK OUT THEIR PRODUCE AT THE LOCAL MARKETS? WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE? LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW!